Friday, June 29, 2012

Eugene Genovese on Slavery and the Master-slave Relationship, by Mark Smith

Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974), Genovese examined the society of the slaves. This book won the national Bancroft Prize in History. Genovese viewed the antebellum South as a closed and organically united paternalist society that exploited and attempted to dehumanize the slaves. Genovese paid close attention to the role of religion as a form of resistance in the daily life of the slaves because slaves used it to give themselves a sense of humanity. He redefined resistance to slavery as all efforts by which slaves rejected their status as slaves, including their religion, music and the culture they built. Genovese applied Antonio Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony to the slave South.

He placed paternalism at the center of the master-slave relationship. Both masters and slaves embraced paternalism, though for different reasons and with varying notions of what paternalism meant. For the slaveowners, paternalism allowed them to think of themselves as benevolent and to justify their appropriation of their slaves' labor. Paternalist ideology, they believed, also gave the institution of slavery a more benign face and helped deflate the increasingly strong abolitionist critique of the institution.

Slaves, on the other hand, recognized that paternalist ideology could be twisted to suit their own ends, by providing them with improved living and working conditions. Slaves struggled mightily to convert the benevolent "gifts" or "privileges" bestowed upon them by their masters into customary rights which masters would not violate. The reciprocity of paternalism could work to the slaves' advantage by allowing them to demand more humane treatment from their masters.

Religion was an important theme in Roll, Jordan, Roll and other studies. Genovese noted that Evangelicals recognized slavery as the root of Southern ills and sought some reforms, but no substantial change of the system. Genovese's contention was that after 1830, southern Christianity became part of social control of the slaves. Furthermore, he argued that the slaves' religion was not conducive to millenarianism or a revolutionary political tradition. Rather, it helped them survive and resist. (Wikipedia)

Panel 2: Eugene Genovese on Slavery and the Master-slave Relationship, by Mark Smith from Alexander Hamilton Institute on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ken Knowlton: Mosaics

Dignity Under Duress (from Louis Agassizi's photo of a slave) Seashells, Ken Knowlton, 1997

Harvard's Racist Louis Agassiz

Cambridge - Harvard Square: Harvard Museum of Natural History

Harvard Museum of Natural History, at 26 Oxford Street, was created in 1998, combining three Oxford Street Museums under one institution--The Museum of Comparative Zoology, founded in 1859 by Swiss zoologist Louis Agassiz; the Harvard University Herbaria, founded in 1858 by Asa Gray as the Museum of Vegetable Products; and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum, founded in 1784 by Benjamin Waterhouse. The University Museum Building, which houses both the Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Archaelogy and Ethnology was originally built in 1859 and ceded to Harvard in 1876. With more than 175,000 visitors annually, the Havard Museum of Natural History is the most visited attraction at Harvard. (source: Flicker)

Louis Agassiz 

From the Boston Globe, "Louis Agassiz exhibit divides Harvard, Swiss group" on 27 June 2012, by Mary Carmichael -- A Swiss group will show silhouettes of slaves. The 19th-century Swiss-born naturalist Louis Agassiz was a revered figure at Harvard University. He was also a racist who commissioned humiliating photographs of slaves and Brazilian natives.

A century and a half after their creation, the images still haunt: daguerreotypes and photos of people stripped ­naked and displayed like specimens. To Agassiz, the images were evidence for his belief that human races sprang from different biological origins.

A Swiss group will show silhouettes of slaves.

Now, those images are at the center of a dispute between Harvard, which owns them, and the organizer of an exhibit on Agassiz and his racism that opens this week in Grindelwald, Switzerland. The images will not be reproduced in that exhibit, because Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography will not allow it.

The museum’s curators say they denied the Swiss group permission to reproduce the images because of the Peabody’s blanket policy against the display of exploitative images of naked people. Other ­scholars agree that there is reason to be careful with such images, lest they be used not to ­educate but to inflame.

The Swiss group, however, says that the Peabody never told it about the policy, nor gave it any explanation. The group’s members — a loose, unnamed confederation led by the history teacher and activist Hans Fässler, who has devoted years to exposing little-known facets of racism in Switzerland — instead argue that Harvard is protecting one of its own. They are so angry that they have decided to show silhouettes based on the images, with captions underneath that say, in essence, Harvard didn’t want you to see the real thing.

The tale of the images begins in 1850, when Agassiz, a Harvard professor, hired a South Carolina man named J.T. Zealy to make a series of ­daguerreotypes of slaves standing unclothed, shot from several angles.

By that time, Agassiz had already made several public statements — shocking to read today, but less so in his day. For instance, in 1846, ­according to the Harvard scholar Louis ­Menand, Agassiz said he believed that blacks and whites were different species. A year later, Agassiz told a Charleston, S.C., audience that “the brain of the Negro is that of the imperfect brain of a seven months’ infant in the womb of a White.”

But Agassiz had not finished developing his racist theories by 1850. He wanted visual evidence for them, and in Zealy he thought he had found the man to produce it.

Fifteen years later, Agassiz led an expedition to Brazil. Among the photographs of ­flora and fauna taken on the expedition were other images, of native people. Many, as in the Zealy daguerreotypes, were stripped to show the physical differences that Agassiz believed he saw.

Jack the Driver

Agassiz’ views on race may have left some of his colleagues disquieted. But not many.

“Agassiz’ racism was extreme in the sense that he used his public stature as a scientist to propagate and, in a bizarre way, to ‘prove’ it,” said Christoph Irmscher, an Indiana University professor and author of a new biography of Agassiz. “But his views were not extraordinarily different from the racism many of his contemporaries displayed at the time.”

Instead of being condemned, Agassiz became famous, and at the time of his death in 1873 was considered America’s leading scientist. His admirers named many landmarks for him, including a Cambridge street, a Swiss mountain, the world-class Harvard zoology museum he founded, and a public school that was later renamed.

Delia, daughter of Renty

But no one kept track of the images from South Carolina and Brazil. They disappeared for decades, surfacing only when a Peabody employee discovered them in a storage cabinet at the Harvard museum in 1976.

Their significance was immediately apparent. They were some of the earliest known images of American slaves, milestones in the histories of race and photography. They were also visually striking. Many of their subjects stared at the camera with undeniable dignity despite their humiliating circumstances.

“Agassiz was trying to dehumanize these subjects in an anthropological or medical way,” said John Stauffer, chairman of Harvard’s Program in the History of American Civilization, who plans to mount his own exhibit on the images within the next year. “The rich irony is, what comes through is these individuals’ humanity.”

Yet the images are, no doubt, disturbing. Displaying them widely, some believe, may come with a price.

“These are images that were meant to denigrate people,” said Irmscher, who chose to show only one of them in his new book. “I am deeply appreciative of the efforts to expose Agassiz’ motives, but there’s a thin line between documenting the extent of his racism and perpetuating it by making these photographs public again.”

Although Peabody curators have spent years carefully weighing how widely the images should be distributed, there is little reason to think that Harvard has tried to shield them from public view. The Peabody has allowed them to be reproduced in photography textbooks and academic papers, on the Harvard library website, and in at least two foreign-language books that are sharply critical of Agassiz.

All of which raises the question of why the Swiss group cannot show them.

Jessica Desany Ganong, the imaging services coordinator of the Peabody, said in an e-mail to the Globe that the museum’s curators had made their decision “based on a current blanket museum policy that covers all images of nudes in the Museum’s collection taken by any photographer at any period in an exploitative manner (which includes other images besides those commissioned by Agassiz). This policy does not focus on Agassiz or his beliefs.”

But Fässler, the leader of the Swiss group, said the Peabody had told him via an e-mail, obtained by the Globe, only that the images were considered “sensitive.”

Louis Agassiz statue after 1906 quake

Fässler also pointed to another e-mail from an assistant at the Harvard Art Museums, a separate entity, which the Swiss approached for permission to reproduce a painted portrait of Agassiz. That museum, too, denied the group permission, at least at first. In April, an employee of the Harvard Art Museums sent the Swiss an e-mail saying that its curators found “some of the language in your exhibition materials, although interesting, aggressive towards Agassiz, who was a very influential figure at Harvard.”

After the Swiss complained, Daron Manoogian, director of communications for the Harvard Art Museums, intervened. The Swiss group will be able to use the portrait, after all.

The April e-mail, Manoogian said, was sent in error by “a very new, temporary employee” who, working with a curatorial assistant while two senior curators were away, “was acting in good faith but made the wrong decision.” Harvard, he added, “always errs on the side of scholarship. And we don’t make determinations about what that scholarship is.”

But Fässler remains infuriated by the Peabody’s continuing refusal of permission. So his exhibit will show not only ­silhouettes it has created based on the images, but also the relevant e-mail exchanges with the employees of both Harvard museums — which, even if they were sent partly in error, give the exhibit an extra punch.

“Sometimes,” Fässler said, “the ‘other side’ just makes the best mistakes.” (source: The Boston Globe)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Edward L. Ayers: Defining the Twentieth Century

Edward Ayers, President of University of Richmond, discusses how to define an "era." He reviews African American history and women's history throughout the twentieth century to illustrate the fact that one event does not necessarily lead to another, and that history does not always follow a logical trajectory.

Edward L. Ayers: Defining the Twentieth Century from The Gilder Lehrman Institute on Vimeo.

We Can Stop Wal-Mart at the Wilderness

We Can Stop Wal-Mart at the Wilderness

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jacob Lawrence,The Shoemaker, from The Migration Series, 1945

Jacob Lawrence,The Shoemaker, from The Migration Series, 1945

The Branded Hand of Captain Jonathan Walker

The branded hand of Captain Jonathan Walker

The letters "S.S.," for slave stealer, were branded on the hand of Captain Jonathan W. Walker, an ardent abolitionist, as shown in this dramatic photograph. Walker was born in Harwich on Cape Cod in 1799 and spent his early years between the shipyard and the sea. His life-long interest in the abolition of slavery probably began in 1835 when he went on an expedition to Mexico to assist in the colonization of escaped American Black slaves, and he was also one of the conductors along the underground railroad.1

By 1844, Walker moved to Florida where his efforts for the abolitionist cause met with adversity. In that year, he attempted to assist seven escaped slaves to freedom by sailing them from Florida to the West Indies. During the voyage, he became ill. His crew was untrained in sailing and navigational procedures and, as a result, they were "rescued" by a proslavery wrecking sloop and returned to Florida. The slaves were returned to their masters, and Walker was arrested. He was convicted and sentenced in a federal court, spent one year in solitary confinement, and was fined $600. It was at this time that his right palm was branded with the letters "S.S."2

The event did not deter Walker from spreading the abolitionist word. His fine was paid by Northern abolitionists, and between 1845 and 1849 he lectured throughout the country on antislavery subjects.3 He settled in Muskegon County, Michigan, where he died in 1878; a monument to him was unveiled there in the same year.4 John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet and abolitionist, paid tribute to Walker in his poem "The Branded Hand" which first appeared in a book of abolitionist poetry entitled Voices of Freedom in 1846 and included the passage:

Then lift that manly right-hand, bold ploughman of the wave!
Its branded palm shall prophesy, "SALVATION TO THE SLAVE!"

The photograph of Walker's hand was commissioned by Henry Ingersoll Bowditch (1808—1892), a Boston abolitionist, while Walker was in that city, probably in 1845.5 It was taken at the daguerreotype studio of Southworth and Hawes, a prominent partnership famous for its daguerreotypes of renowned individuals, groups, and views of Boston, and it has been called "one of the earliest conceptual portraits in that a body part can stand for the total personality."6 Due to the reverse image consistent with the daguerreotype process, the image appears to be the left hand, but is in fact the right.

Josiah Johnson Hawes and Albert Sands Southworth opened their daguerreotype studio in 1843, inspired by an 1840 lecture by Francois Gouraud, Louis Daguerre's American agent. Hawes, born in East Sudbury, Massachusetts, worked as an itinerant portrait painter from 1829, but in 1841 he began to pursue the commercial prospects of this new permanent photographic process. Southworth was born in West Fairlee, Vermont, and, after hearing Gouraud's lecture, opened a daguerreotype studio with an old Phillips Academy classmate, Joseph Pernell, in Cabotville. After this business was ruined by Southworth's experiments, he joined forces with Hawes in 1843. The partnership ended temporarily in 1849 when Southworth left for California in search of gold. His health failed, however, and he returned to Boston in 1851 to resume his partnership with Hawes. Southworth and Hawes received a patent for their invention, the "Grand Parlor Stereoscope," in 1854. The partnership was dissolved in 1861-1862 but not before the partners created some of the most famous daguerreotypes produced in the United States, some of which are now held by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York.7 (source: Massachusetts History)

Thomas Jefferson's Runaway Slave

RUN away from the subscriber in Albermarle, a Mulatto slave called Sandy, about 35 years of age, his stature is rather low, inclining to corpulence, and his complexion light; he is a shoe maker by trade, in which he uses his left hand principally, ca do coarse carpenters work, and is something of a horse jockey; he is greatly addicted to drink, and when drunk is insolent and disorderly, in his conversation he swears much, and in his behavior is artful and knavish.

He took with him a white horse, much scarred with traces, of which it is expected he will endeavor to dispose; he also carried his shoemakers tools, and will probably endeavor to get employment that way.  Whoever conveys the said slave to me, in Albemarle, shall have s. reward, if taken up within the county, 4 l. if elsewhere within the colony, and 10 l. if in any other colony from 

Monday, June 25, 2012

An Encounter With A Missouri Slave In 1861

From the London Illustrated News, by G.H. Andrews, published on 16 February 1861 [editors note: the Civil War began in April of 1861]  -- "I was much struck with the quickness and intellect of a negro whom I met in Missouri. He was in charge of the bar of an hotel. I entered into conversation with him about the condition of the slaves. He did not charge their owners with treating them cruelly. He admitted they were well fed and clothed, and generally not overworked. I asked him if he was a slave? He stammered, hesitated, was confused; and I saw clearly that I had asked him an exceedingly rude question. I felt sorry that I had done so, as I saw he was hurt and felt the misery of his position. He said, "I am not exactly a slave." I knew he was, but he was ashamed to own it. "

"I said to him, "Now, as you admit the slaves to be tolerably well off, and not to be badly treated generally, are they contented with their lot, or do they desire to be free?" On the bar-counter in front of us were some slops of wine and beer and crumbs of biscuits: a number of flies were feeding upon them when I asked him if the slaves were contented with their lot. He instantly turned a tumbler glass down upon the counter and two or three of the flies were imprisoned under it; there was fire in his eye, and his whole body was agitated as he pointed with his finger to the glass in which the captured flies were buzzing about. "Why," said he, "don't those flies continue to eat and drink as before? There is plenty there for them, enough to last them a week, but they will neither eat nor drink; they have lost their liberty, and without that nothing else is of value." He lifted the glass, the flies flew away. "Now," said he, "they are happy again and will eat and drink, and enjoy what they eat and drink." It would be as safe to cram the cellars of their houses with gunpowder and continue to live over them as to fill the State with men like these, for certainly they will strike for liberty when they have a chance. " --G.H. Andrews 1861

Savannah And The Slave Business

From Savannah Now, "Historian chronicles Savannah's business ties to slavery," by Chuck Mobley, on 27 February 2009 -- Seated comfortably at a table in City Market, historian Barry Sheehy looked past the casual ambiance that now attracts throngs of tourists and instead focused on the area's "dark secret" - its link to the antebellum-era slave trade.

"That upper floor," he said, pointing to a nearby building, "was one of the most active slave markets in the city."

Then known as the Montmollin Building, it housed the operations of slave traders John Montmollin and Alexander Bryan from the mid-1850s until the surrender of Savannah in December 1864. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of slaves were brought up the stairs during those years and then sold, said Sheehy.

It seems incongruous and wrong that "it's just business as usual" here with absolutely no mention or mark of that portion of the past, he said.

"Yes, it's a sad chapter in the city's history," he said. "But how can you not acknowledge it?"

A compelling subject

Sheehy, with a wry smile, said that he never intended to delve so deeply into Savannah's business ties to slavery.

An entrepreneur with business connections in the Northeast and Canada, he's made his home in this area since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when he was at the World Trade Center. The Georgia Historical Quarterly, in 2005, published an article he researched and wrote, "Forgotten Battles: Engagements at Monteith Swamp and Shaw's Bridge During the Savannah Campaign in 1864."

Intrigued by that experience, and what he learned about the Civil War history of Savannah, Sheehy got together with photographer Cindy Wallace a couple of years ago, intending to chronicle antebellum and Civil War sites still standing in the city and produce a coffee-table-style book.

They found a wealth of information about that period of the city's history, said Sheehy, but what they uncovered about slavery was so compelling they felt it deserved far more than just a chapter in their book. Instead, they decided to also produce a scholarly article about the peculiar institution and its effect on Savannah.

"We were drawn in," said Sheehy, "drawn in like Joseph Conrad in 'Heart of Darkness.'"

'The heart of the slave trading district'

Using a wealth of sources and advanced computer techniques, Sheehy and Wallace - with help from cartographer David Anderson, graphic designer Scott Newman and editor Katharine Rapkin - have produced a 47-page article titled "Slavery as a Business in Antebellum Savannah, 1855-65."

It's loaded with pictures and graphics and carries a real jolt for anyone who's not aware of slavery's economic power in the city during those 10 years.

"Antebellum Savannah was Georgia's largest slave trading center," the article states. "The slave trade was, by most measures, the largest domestic (non-export) industry in the antebellum city. Yet, there has been surprisingly little examination of the institution and how it operated day to day in Savannah."

Slave Dungeon or Slave Barracoon in Savannah, Georgia (source:

Montmollin and Bryan were part of a business blueprint that spread across much of downtown and included wealthy and influential banks, brokers, attorneys and auctioneers. The City Market area was also home to the Timber Cutter's Bank and other slave brokers. .

Just a couple of blocks away, in a tight coterie just north of Johnson Square, were the slavery-driven businesses along Bay Lane, "the heart of Savannah's slave trading district," wrote Sheehy. This section was then a "busy mini-street crowded with saloons ... and frequented by horse traffic."

Inside Slave Barracoon in Savannah, Georgia (Photo credit:

The slave trade became such an integral part of the city's commerce, wrote Sheehy, that it hung on until the bitter end of the Confederacy.
Many traders "continued to do business even as federal artillery echoed through the streets."

A wealth of information

Sheehy's and Wallace's work, even though it has not yet been finalized, has already won praise. Sheehy appeared before the Chatham County Historic Preservation Commission earlier this month, talked about what he'd found and urged that steps be taken to mark some of those locations.

Savannah historian Hugh Golson was among those in the audience, and he came away quite impressed.

"I was really dazzled by some of the information," Golson said. "I found out that the building across the street from my house was owned by one of the slave traders, and that he died there in the 1870s."

Golson said he was also struck by the economic force that slavery had become, the fact that it was the largest non-import business in the city.

Vaughnette Goode-Walker, the assistant curator of education for the Telfair Museum of Art, is quite familiar with Bay Lane. She's put together a walking tour of that area and knows its nefarious history.

The article goes "deep into this subject," she said. "It brings out what really happened, even at the slave jails."

For Sheehy, at least one physical change should be made to acknowledge the area's history. He would like for the third floor in the old Montmollin Building - where the slaves sales were held - to become a memorial.

"If there is any structure in the city crying out for restoration to its original form," he wrote, "surely this is it." (source:Savannah Now)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Freedman’s Mechanical Bank

The Freedman’s Bank
by F.H. Griffith - HOBBIES Magazine - May, 1970

Other than having the finest most complete collection of the different mechanical banks, one of the great drives or aims, if not the greatest, of most collectors of the mechanicals is to own a Freedman’s Bank. The possession of this bank not only puts one in a very select small group, but it also establishes a collection on its way to being among the top ten. No other single mechanical bank can quite touch the achievement of the acquisition of a Freedman’s. Right on its heels, of course, is the Clown, Harlequin & Columbine, however, the Freedman’s Bank has maintained its position as the No. 1 mechanical for years and it’s highly improbable that it will ever be anything but No. 1.

The rare once in a lifetime occasion of a Freedman’s being added to an individual’s collection is a real noteworthy event and it is with great interest we inform our readers that W. W. Tudor has recently acquired a fine example of this outstanding bank. It is now the fifth one known to exist in a privately owned collection of mechanical banks. The bank had been under wraps for years and Mr. Tudor is certainly to be congratulated on his acquisition of this greatest of mechanicals.

A brief review of the other four Freedman’s that exist in private collections is in order at this point. First was the one found by the late William F. Ferguson in a second hand shop in Connecticut. It was minus all clothing and the head and frame of the figure were also missing. This bank has been restored in fairly recent years and is now in the Perelman collection. The second Freedman’s was found by the late Andrew Emerine. It turned up in Mexico City with some needed restoration and minus the original clothing. This was remedied by Mr. Emerine and the bank is now in the Mosler collection. The third Freedman’s Bank turned up in Pottstown and was acquired by John D. Meyer, one of the pioneer collectors. It is in nice condition but the table has no legs and there are no legs on the figure. The fourth Freedman’s was obtained by Mark Haber from its original owner, Dudley L. Vaill of Winston, Conn. The bank had been carefully kept by Mr. Vaill in its fine condition over the years and it is the only known completely original specimen-even to having the paper label of the store where it was originally purchased. The bank was given to Mr. Vaill by an uncle as a Christmas present in either 1879 or 1880. It remained in his possession until May 1944, at which time Mr. Haber obtained the bank from him. This excellent example was added to the writer’s collection some 20 odd years ago.

Now we come to Mr. Tudor’s Freedman’s Bank, the fifth one to be in a collection of mechanical banks. It is pictured in Figure 1 before and after the operation. Figure 2 shows the bank during the action. The action, as has been described before (HOBBIES, October, 1951), is really something and it is the most intricate of all the mechanicals. This Freedman’s like the one owned by Mr. Mosler, has a hair like wig on the head of the figure. Please see HOBBIES, October 1951 and October 1965, for photos of the writer’s bank without the wig. Jerome Secor, the manufacturer of the bank, from all evidence obtainable made it first without a wig and then some with wigs. It is also interesting to note that the paper name section on the front of the bank shown is a larger size than the one on the writer’s bank, both are unquestionably original.

The clothes of the figure on the bank pictured are not original, although they were made a number of years ago. Some other minor restoration was necessary, as well as adjustment of the involved clockwork mechanism. The bank is now in perfect original working order going through all the proper operations and movements. It’s a fine example of the greatest of the mechanicals.

In possessing the Freedman’s Mr. Tudor is joining two unusual groups. First, as previously mentioned, are those owning one. Then come those who have a Freedman’s and a Harlequin in their respective collections. The writer has always been pleased in being first to accomplish this-then a few years ago Mr. Perelman made it No. 2, and now Mr. Tudor is No. 3. A step forward for Mr. Tudor – a giant step forward for his collection. (source: Mechanical Banks)

Coon Chicken Inn:

Coon Chicken Inn (Seattle)

The Coon Chicken Inn was a fried-chicken restaurant chain located on the Old Bothell Highway on the outskirts of the Seattle city limits, in what is today the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle. The Seattle branch -- part of a larger chain founded by Maxon Lester Graham (1897-1977) in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1925 -- opened its doors in August 1930. The restaurant was famous for its ubiquitous logo of a "Coon," or a caricatured African American male. Despite protests from the African American community, the Seattle branch remained open until late 1949.

The Coon Caricature

The Coon Chicken Inn’s famous logo was of a "Coon," or a racist caricature of an African American male rooted in nineteenth century minstrel theater and early twentieth century advertising. The restaurant’s "Coon" logo wore a porter’s uniform. The face was complete with a winking left eye and enlarged red lips forever gaping to expose the words "Coon Chicken Inn" etched on the rows of shining white teeth.

The "Coon" logo appeared on every dish, silverware piece, menu, matchbox (the image even appeared on the matchsticks!), and children’s fan produced for the restaurant. The doors of the Coon Chicken Inn’s delivery car were plastered with the "Coon" logo and the entrance to the restaurant itself featured a 12-foot-high "Coon head" by which patrons would enter the restaurant through a door in the head’s mouth and chin.

The Old Bothell Highway and Roadside Restaurants

Though Lake City remained outside of the Seattle city limits until 1954, the Old Bothell Highway had played a role in setting Seattle’s racial landscape since the early twentieth century. The area gained township status in 1949 after a flood of families flocked to the suburbs in the post-World War II years. Lake City’s development was always dependent on the automobile; in 1911, King County improved the Bothell Highway, an old logging road, by paving it with asphalt-based Warrenite. Located in an unincorporated area of King County easily accessible by automobile, the Old Bothell Highway proved to be a prime location for roadside restaurants. As early as 1919, Southern and minstrel-themed fried chicken restaurants were attracting Seattleites who, according to Hattie Graham Horrocks’ guide to Seattle restaurants, "wished to drive out-of-town for the occasional dinner." My Southern Inn, renowned for "frying chicken in the window in plain sight of passersby," became one of the first, soon followed in 1921 by Bob’s Place and in 1923 by Mammy’s Shack.

Though many roadside restaurant façades were utilitarian, a few, like the Coon Chicken Inn, embraced a more fanciful, programmatic architectural design. Like the landmark Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles or the Teapot Dome Service Station in Zillah, Washington, programmatic, or novelty, architecture, aimed to attract the attention of passersby with its unconventional structures.
The Opening

Once he had situated it on the Old Bothell Highway, Lester Graham vigorously promoted the new restaurant. On August 31, 1930, an advertisement for the newly opened Coon Chicken Inn, disguised as a news story, took up almost a full page in The Seattle Times. Under the heading "Coon Chicken Inn Opened in Seattle," the page featured the short columns, "Coon Chicken? Ask Anyone Who Came From South," "Highway Resort is One of Huge National Chain," "Inn is Built From Local Materials," "Utah Folk are Champions of Fried Chicken," "Telephone Will Bring Chicken to Your Home," and "Parking Space is Provided at Inn for 500 Autos." The page also included a large display advertisement for the restaurant, complete with this description:

"The best fried chicken you ever tasted! That’s a mighty strong statement, but you’ll agree after visiting Seattle’s newest, most unique eating place that it’s a mighty true one. Coon Chicken Inn brings to Seattle and the Northwest a nationally-famous method of cookery, and provides a novel, pleasing restaurant at which you’ll enjoy eating. Good food served in a cheerful atmosphere! A service that will fit in with your every plan -- party, after-theatre affair, or the wish for a splendid meal! Throughout America our splendid foods have pleased the most discriminating palates. Coon Chicken Inn is not ‘just another restaurant’ -- it is an innovation providing a pleasurable change from the ordinary café -- a new eating place whose cuisine is considered in a class by itself, head and shoulders above the average."

The African American Community Reacts

Though The Seattle Times advertisement and articles made no mention of African Americans or the coon stereotype, the African American community in Seattle took issue with this blatant display of racial hostility. In 1930, the Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) and Seattle’s African American the style of advertising by removing the word "Coon" from the restaurant’s delivery car, repainting the "Coon head" entrance to the restaurant, and canceling an order of 1,000 automobile tire covers. These small concessions, however, were not enough to erase the image in the newspaper, the Northwest Enterprise, protested the opening of the local Coon Chicken Inn by threatening Graham with a lawsuit for libel and defamation of race. In response, Graham agreed to chcature from Seattle. Graham violated his agreement with the NAACP but managed to evade the lawsuit by changing the color of the "Coon" logo from black- or brown-skinned to blue.

In an oral history interview recorded by Ester Mumford in 1975, Joseph Staton, an employee of the Northwest Enterprise, related how some members of the African American community took individual action against the Coon Chicken Inn. Staton and four friends created what Staton referred to as a "contest" -- each friend put in 50 cents apiece and whoever cut the most "Coon" faces out of the spare tire covers after 30 days would win the pot. Eventually, Staton was caught participating in this prank and was arrested, booked, and fined $3.

Labor Protest

In March 1937 the Bartenders, Cooks, Waiters, and Waitresses Union (BCWW) and the Musicians Union orchestrated a joint labor protest against the Coon Chicken Inn. The unions picketed the restaurant for a week, holding signs that read "Unfair" while protesting the restaurant’s treatment of organized labor and demanding that the Coon Chicken Inn be completely unionized.

The labor action was successful. On March 18, E. B. Fish, the labor counsel for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce labor relations department; Jack Weinberger, the international representative of the BCWW; and Lester Graham signed the standard agreement of the unions.

The End

The Coon Chicken Inn persisted on the Old Bothell Highway until late 1949, when Lester Graham removed the "Coon head" from public view and closed the restaurant’s doors. But neither Graham nor the Coon Chicken Inn disappeared from Seattle completely. In December 1949, the Lake City Citizen featured an advertisement for the newly opened G.I. Joe’s New Country Store, giving its location as the old Coon Chicken Inn building.

Today the original Coon Chicken Inn building is gone. Ying’s Drive Inn, a Chinese restaurant near 18th NE and NE 85th Street, sits on the piece of land where the restaurant once stood. Though the Coon Chicken Inn façade is gone, relics of the Coon Chicken Inn remain and are generally regarded as black-memorabilia collectibles. (source: King County Library's History Link)

Freedman's Savings & Trust Co.

Three million dollars ($53,942,565.24 in 2010 dollars) belonging to 61,000 African Americans. That's how much accumulated wealth vanished when the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company failed in 1874. Earlier that year, Frederick Douglass had become the bank's President just after it moved its headquarters to a prominent location on the corner Lafayette Square, where the Treasury Annex now stands. Douglass was unaware of the rampant corruption within the bank and, once he discovered how weak the institution was, he attempted to stabilize it by investing thousands of dollars of his own funds.

The Freedman's Bank building was an imposing structure that cost $260,000 to build. Describing his reaction to seeing the building for the first time, Frederick Douglass wrote, "The whole thing was beautiful. I had read of this bank when I lived in Rochester, and had indeed been solicited to become one of its trustees, and had reluctantly consented to do so: but when I came to Washington and saw its magnificent brown stone front, its towering height, its perfect appointments, and the fine display it made in the transaction of its business, I felt like the Queen of Sheba when she saw the riches of Solomon, that 'half had not been told me'."

When it failed, the Freedman's Savings Bank had 37 branches operating in 17 states and the District of Columbia. In the District alone over 3,000 depositors—both individuals and cultural institutions — lost their savings. The bank building was purchased by the federal government in 1882 and demolished in 1899.

What does survive are the records of twenty-nine branches of the Freedman's Savings Bank, including those of the Washington DC office, which are searchable at the National Archives. These records contain a wealth of information about the bank's customers—many of whom lived the transition from slavery to freedom—including their names, employers, physical descriptions, occupations or professions, and the names of their children and/or siblings. (source: White House History)

The Freedman's Bank Today, The site of the Freedman’s Bank is now the location of the Treasury Annex.

Library of Congress Closes Exhibition on Slavery

As reported by the New York Times, "After Protests, Library of Congress Closes Exhibition on Slavery," by Karen De Witt, on 21 December 21 1995 -- Bowing to staff members who took offense at its contents and leaving some scholars dismayed, the Library of Congress has closed an exhibition about slavery and plantation life.

The exhibition, "Back of the Big House: The Cultural Landscape of the Plantation," was knocked down on Tuesday, only hours after its installation the day before. Many African-American staff members and officers of the library "took umbrage" with the exhibition, said Jill Brett, a library spokeswoman.

John Michael Vlach, the curator for the exhibition, said he was stunned by the decision.

"I was never informed until I called the library Tuesday," said Mr. Vlach, a professor of American studies and anthropology at George Washington University.

The exhibit is based on a book Mr. Vlach wrote using 20,000 pages of interviews with former slaves conducted by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930's and photos and drawings from the library's Historical American Buildings Survey. The exhibition dealt with the cruelties of plantation life as well as the skills and crafts of those in bondage.

The Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, played down the controversy, calling the show "a minor traveling exhibit" on the sixth floor of a library annex building that would have been seen primarily by library staff. "Our senior managers heeded genuine staff concerns and acted appropriately," said.

JoAnn Jenkins, the library's senior adviser for diversity, said the reaction to the exhibition "has a lot to do with what is going on at the library." A 1982 class-action suit alleging that the library discriminated against its black and female employees has just been settled for $8 million, but some 2,000 employees have yet to receive any money because some issues are still on appeal.

Ms. Jenkins said, "You got off the elevator and there was, this six-foot screen, 'Back of the Big House,' and this older black gentleman crouched down, hitting you in the face." She added: "You have to look at this in terms of the Library of Congress, its strange relations with its employees in terms of race."

But, Byron Rushing, a Massachusetts legislator who once headed the African Meeting House Museum in Boston and was an adviser for the exhibition, said the decision to take down the show reflected the skittishness of institutions with Federal connections about doing anything controversial.

"This is a perfect example of a Librarian of Congress who panicked," Mr. Rushing said. "The library was afraid of getting caught up in that whole Enola Gay, Smithsonian thing. It already had a touch of it with Freud."

Earlier this month, the library indefinitely postponed an exhibition on Sigmund Freud. Officials said it was canceled for lack of money, but the move came after protests by academics who believe that Freud's theories have been discounted.

Academics and museum officials see both events as part of a disturbing trend to dismantle rather than defend controversial exhibitions.

"There are not going to be many exhibits left if you bow to every objection," Mr. Rushing said. "Who then speaks for all the black staff people who would like to see it?"

Mr. Vlach said he would like to meet with those who objected to the exhibition.

"I followed the premises of sensitive scholarship," Mr. Vlach said. "I see my role as a revisionist by adding the parts of the story that have been overlooked that have been eliminated or understated. I've been very careful, assiduous, in interpreting the meaning, simply letting those people tell their story." (source: The New York Times)


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